Content Warning: minor fanservice, magical love potion/brainwashing
What’s it about? Rokudo Tosuke is the favored punching bag of his school’s delinquents until the day he receives a powerful onmyouji scroll from his late grandfather. Under its magic, Rokudo is now irresistible to any bad girl who lays eyes on him, and he’s snagged the baddest girl of all – the unstoppable Himawari Ranna.
A moment of silence for Rokudo’s Bad Girls, which was going to be a messy affair at the best of times but comes damn near dead on arrival in the wake of the excellent and unexpectedly insightful Akiba Maid War. There are glimmers of interesting thought here, but not enough to keep the show from collapsing under the burden of its own premise.
It would be one thing if this were just generally a “tough girl, gentle boy” type rom-com, with the terrifying Ranna deciding for reasons unknown that yes, this small dude is all her heart desires. You could still use the same basic plot of Ranna deciding to take on every delinquent in the city for Rokudo’s sake, and you’d be tapping into a seriously underutilized dynamic in M/F romance anime (or at least recreating the magical girlfriend subgenre that’s been missing for a minute). Honestly, I’d watch it.
That is not, however, the show we got. What we got is a love potion-derived harem show with some extremely weird gender politics. There’s not much in the way of overt fanservice, but the show somehow manages to pack something worse into its spare corners. The one lone close-up of Rokudo and his friends leering at a girl’s thighs is followed by griping about how she shouldn’t wear her school uniform skirt if she doesn’t want people to look. Rokudo has an entire monologue about how bad girls are mysterious creatures who buck the traditional image of women as submissive, but the way the spell operates adds a massive “except for with me though” asterisk to their supposed appeal.
While the structure of this kind of story means that inevitably Rokudo will start to actually fall for Ranna and then worry whether she actually likes him or if it’s just the magic talking, the dubious consent angle feels like an unnecessary hat on a hat. Or rather, its presence seems to exist not because this was the only way the writer could imagine a tough girl falling for a nerd, but because this was the only way to make sure she acted sufficiently gooey and obedient to his every request. It would be one thing if she were just genuinely twitterpated and sappy, but the fact that these are magically-induced behaviors make it feel pretty icky that all these brash girls are specifically moved to act servile.
There’s definitely something to dig into from an analytical perspective about the episode’s closer, in which Rokudo declares “true manliness is cute” after hearing that Ranna withstood a hail of blows just because she’d pledged her word to him not to fight. But one intriguing line does not a nuanced exploration of gender make. This isn’t Tomo-chan is a Girl, which despite its rocky first episode at least angled purposefully toward underlining that there’s nothing wrong with its tomboy lead. Even if the original manga had a glimmer of potential, series composer Momose Yuichiro’s short resume is nonetheless packed with the likes of My Sister, My Writer and My First Girlfriend is a Gal. Call me cynical, but that doesn’t speak to a guy who’s going to really capitalize on the latent potential of intriguing power dynamics in heteronormative relationships.
It’s a shame. There’s something appealing about the throwback ‘90s visuals, even if Rokudo does look like Gon Freecss’ disreputable cousin. I like the thick linework, the bold colors, and I’m always pleased to see a Sukeban-styled girl. But even if we put aside the magical plot device, and the sleazy emphasis on humbling women…it isn’t even directed and boarded with enough verve to be a satisfying brawler. This doesn’t just show up late to the party. The party ended two days ago, and you brought Miller Lite.